Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov arrived yesterday in Damascus to begin a five-nation tour of Middle East capitals that has been billed by Moscow as part of an effort to reassert itself as a player in the region. But if Washington’s dominant role in the peace process had originally been seen by Moscow as the primary obstacle to achieving that goal, there are indications that the Kremlin now fears being pushed to the sidelines by Europe as well. Western diplomatic sources in Damascus were quoted yesterday as saying that, in the wake of last week’s visit to the region by French president Jacques Chirac, "Russia fears that the Europeans will be able to gain the approval of parties in the Middle East for playing a role in the [peace] process at a time when the Russian role has lost its dynamics." That Russia has become suspicious over Chirac’s call for greater European influence in the Middle East was evidenced on October 26 when Russia’s ambassador to Syria said that Moscow would refuse to consider any European role in the region as an alternative to Russia’s. "The Madrid conference that launched the peace process in the Middle East set up a formula under which Russia and the United States are co-sponsors of the process, and any change in that mechanism will not serve peace," he said. (UPI, October 26)
In Washington, meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. did not discount Russia’s influence in the region. He charged yesterday that support from Paris and Moscow for Palestinian president Yasser Arafat had complicated efforts to finalize a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians on a partial Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank town of Hebron. According to Eliahu Ben Elissar, statements by Chirac and Primakov had left Palestinian president Yasser Arafat obdurate and had made more difficult the task of U.S. mediator Dennis Ross. Among other things, Chirac called last week for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Primakov has on a number of occasions accused Israel of stalling the peace process. (Reuter, October 28)
Black Sea Economic Cooperation Group Summits in Moscow.